“Let’s swim together. If it’s not with you, if Haru is not there then it’s no good.” 

“It’s meaningless without you.”

[GQ] December 2015 - 2015 MEN OF THE YEAR - hyukoh

Disclaimer: This interview belongs to GQ, find the source here. All translation mistakes are my own. Please credit and link back if moving or translating into a different language. Thank you!  

Unfolding at the hands of four dauntless 23 year olds; this is hyukoh’s world.

We kept The Smiths playing during the shoot. I think there’s an odd charm in the short silent moments in between their songs. It feels as if it’s never-ending. Today, as I was listening to your songs on repeat, I had a thought; ‘Oh, this song is starting again. I feel uneasy.’ As it were, I felt anxious while listening to your music. I wonder what you guys are actually like. In what way do you listen to this music?
There are differences in listening to the record and performing it live. Because on stage energy builds up as we perform, there’s less of the somewhat lifelessness from just listening to the record. I think it’s the kind of music where there’s a rift between the live performances and the record.
Inwoo: There’s something ambiguous to it. There are times that I’m uncertain while playing, too.

Is that uncertainty something you try to overcome while doing your best to play? (Laughs)
Inwoo: I really like that uncertainty, since I like abstruse things. Songs like ‘Feels Like Roller-Coaster Ride’ are especially different, I think.
Hyuk: I like the records as well, though.
Hyunje: I wasn’t saying that I dislike the records (laughs).
Hyuk: In my case, as I was the one who wrote the songs, I feel differently. I actually tend to not really listen to our records because I’ve listened to them so much in the past. As for performing, I think I tend to be controlled by my condition. The response of the audience, the sound, and my condition. When these three come together I can really feel the energy flowing. Of course there are also days when it doesn’t match up.

What about you, Donggun?
Donggun: To be honest, I have no thoughts on it.
Inwoo: You’re so cool.
Donggun: You said you felt uneasy, and naturally there’d be a variety of feelings. I don’t have anything to say.

It might be a given, but I think you could also have thoughts like ‘I’ve put out albums and performed on stage. Having done that, is this music really the music that I am making?’
Hyunje: Firstly, I think the all-encompassing answer to that question is ‘that’s right’. I think you’re speaking of those repeated questions you ask yourself after you’ve somehow been swept away by the situation; ‘Is this really what I like?’, ‘Is this mine?’. We just do things that we approve on a case by case-basis. We only do what we’ve judged as cool, fun, good, I think. We just come to a decision as we reach that situation. ‘This is is great, I think this is meh.’ We make judgements intuitively.
Hyuk: I’ve been having some thoughts like that recently. I actually think it’s because I’ve been thinking too much, so we should hurry up and release our next album.

Let me try using the expression ‘suddenly’. You’ve ended up in a situation where you suddenly just need to express too much, including your performances.
We’ve actually talked about that amongst ourselves. I think it was before we shot <Infinite Challenge>, ‘Are we really sure we’re able to to handle these things?’ In the end the answer we reached was that it’ll work out as long as the four of us are confident. Others aside from us make the judgements, but constantly waiting for those moments wasn’t the answer. We said that if we feel we’re lacking we can split the time up more and compensate for each other. We thought just us having conviction in ourselves and moving forward would make do.

What opportunities and results did participating in Infinite Challenge result in for you? What expectations and worries did you have before filming?
We actually didn’t think anything of it.
Hyunje: We had no thoughts about it. Because -
Hyuk: We didn’t think we’d get to participate.
Hyunje: There was that too, and you know, there’s a boundary to what we can expect. Participating in <Infinite Challenge> was beyond our limit of expectation. Even though people around us were saying ‘this is so amazing’, ‘this is it’, in reality it didn’t sink in. I didn’t know what this meant for us. Only after experiencing it did I realise what a big moment it was.
Hyuk: As Hyunje says, it was a really big thing when looking back on it, but at the time I didn’t realise it. If we ended up participating that’d be great, if not then that’s that. I was thinking of going to Brooklyn to have fun in August, too. We were told we were confirmed for shooting and then immediately started filming. It ended before we had the opportunity to prepare or think.
Hyunje: Yeah yeah yeah, just like that.
Inwoo: I absolutely wanted to participate in <Infinite Challenge>, because I like the show. As for worries, making mistakes. I thought of what would happen if I made a mistake. I didn’t worry much about anything else.
Donggun: It was just fun. This doesn’t make any sense, but if they had asked me to come on alone I wouldn’t have done it. That kind of feeling?

What was it like after the show ended?
Hyuk: It was crazy.
Hyunje: It was really crazy right afterwards.
Hyuk: I think it’s still ongoing. Looking back, it’s still hasty and busy, it’s crazy, and I think it’s continuing.

I went to your one year debut anniversary concert that was held in Hannam-dong. It was just after Infinite Challenge had ended and there was this so-called ‘hyukoh syndrome’. But the first thing I saw arriving at the venue was the stage enclosed in a curtain. Oh Hyuk didn’t do any ments during the concert. At every quiet moment there would be chants in the audience, ‘speak, speak’. I oddly felt a sense of rejection. I also had a feeling as if something didn’t quite come together. Perhaps there was a small mismatch between the music, atmosphere, audience, stage, curtain, and you guys.
Hyuk: That’s right.
Hyunje: That was certainly the case.
Hyuk: Me not speaking a single ment that day wasn’t meant to be a rejection. It was a part of this setup meant to make you pay attention from start to finish. Showing something with the draped curtain, videos, lighting, music and these things coming together as one and letting you be immersed was a plan developed since far back. So it wasn’t meant to be a rejection, but I think what I felt up on stage that night is a bit similar to what you just said. Actually, though we’ve performed many times, we were very surprised at that response. I think there’s two points to it; first of all we like music when it’s at a boundary. That’s also the reason we make music. We’re not a band that makes music for the general public. And just the same, we’re not a band who ignores the general public and do only what we like. Although we prioritise doing what we want, that means we take responsibility for our content. We’re not intending to compromise or whatever, but whether it’s the song arrangement or something else, there needs to be something that clicks with these people. That’s the first point, and the second is that I thought we were proceeding too fast. At that time I was thinking that what we’re creating, what we’re trying to do with this kind of mood, is still a bit difficult for people to accept. So the conclusion I reached was to not care and keep going.

And you even went as far as a conclusion, hyukoh.
Donggun: But you’re not calling him hyukoh right now, are you?

I called him hyukoh just now?
Donggun: You did. I was afraid you would. (Laughs)

(Laughs) Ah, I’m sorry. hyukoh is the band name, Oh Hyuk is Oh Hyuk. Shall we talk a bit more about that concert?
It was fun, of course. But I did wonder if the audience were all fans of us. I also thought that rather than a 100% of them coming because they liked our music, it was instead an extension of consuming our image on <Infinite Challenge>. So at that time I just felt greedy. The greed I’ve felt up until now is because of the thirst I have for the music we’re doing in the future. I think I’m always considering how to resolve different things.

Inwoo who was dancing during the shoot is only looking at the floor now.(laughs)
Inwoo: I’m not good at speaking.
Hyuk: You can’t do it when you don’t want to be able to do it. You’re unable to by choice.

Is an album what’s next for hyukoh, who’ve decided to ‘not care and keep going’?
Hyuk: Yes, our full length-album. We’re preparing it now, but not even I know how to describe it in detail yet. Naturally it must be the best by our standards. I think we need to show something more united.
Hyunje: I think it needs density. There a definite colour we’ll show. We’ve decided on it, but I think we need to worry about and solve the rough parts amongst ourselves.
Hyuk: Actually the songs have all been composed. Since there are too many of them we’re picking between them and working on lyrics.

Is there something of a point where it all meets together?
Hyuk: It’s bringing the two previous releases to an end. The lyrics and mood aren’t changing very much, but because I feel the sound, the balance of the sound, and things like these are actually the biggest elements in giving the music a sense of unity when listening to it, I think we need to approach it a bit more technically and up the density. I think it’s about 70% done.

It’s very quiet over here.
Hyunje: You’re making me focused.

I feel that you suddenly being thrown into this situation is symbolical. I wrote a short column about you, and there’s a distinct gap between now and then; now the first name appearing on stage is hyukoh. I welcome that gap, and even more so as the first name is hyukoh.
Hyuk: Thank you.

You might be the four people who’ve run out of breath the most during 2015. What’s it like to look back?
Hyunje: I think it’s been good. Things I hadn’t been able to experience I got to feel all in a short period of time.
Inwoo: I dropped out of the band for a short time last year. It was a really dizzying moment. (Laughs)

After your first record came out?
Inwoo: No.
Hyuk: Yes, it was after it came out.
Inwoo: It wasn’t.
Donggun: They’re right, you left after it came out.
Inwoo: Really? That’s what happened?
Hyuk: You said you’d stop playing drums and left. You said you’d keep producing.

What is this atmosphere with you all snickering? (Laughs)
He left really fired-up. He said very stubbornly that he’s dropping out.
Donggun: You also said you wouldn’t come perform. So I was contacting and looking for other people to cover you, but you returned after I told you that you have to do it.
Inwoo: It seems I brought this up in vain.
Hyuk: But amazingly enough the other guys who showed up were all sick.
Hyunje: They were all a bit ill. One was a drummer with his wrist filled with fluids so he couldn’t play. ‘What should we do? We have several club performances coming up, what do we do?’, panicking about this we finally ended up contacting Inwoo again.
Inwoo: It’s not that I didn’t want to be a drummer.
Hyuk: But you said you wanted to leave.
Inwoo: I wanted to be in the band while producing as well, but at the time I had these friends that I did hiphop with and I had to choose. After I left the band I wanted to play drums again. Anyhow, leaving the band is what’s most memorable to me.
Hyunje: It was right around this time last year. There’s a cafe we go to all the time, and every day the three of us would meet different drummers there. It was right around this time.

Is Inwoo the one who causes most trouble in the group?
Inwoo: Yes. (Laughs)
Hyunje: It was the situation that caused it, the circumstances.

What about Oh Hyuk? If you were to describe 2015 in one scene?
(After lowering his head and thinking for a while) Let Donggun go first. I need to think.
Inwoo: Nothing, eh. Empty. Nada.
Donggun: 2015 in one scene.
Inwoo: There won’t be anything but memories of drinking beer.
Donggun: It was really good, actually. At the same time I’m thinking I had a lot of anxiety. I also had worries someone out of the four of us would die.
Hyunje: We’ll live carefully.
Donggun: Everything turned out fine, so now anxiety is a simultaneous feeling.
Hyunje: An anxious-because-you’re-happy feeling?
Donggun: I think so. It’s not like that every day, but looking back at this year what’s most memorable is these two emotions coexisting.
Hyunje: I think that’s something that comes and goes. And even so, if you’re immersed in the moment you forget about it. We also have more people who help us out now. I think things were somehow always resolved optimistically.

You guys are always with friends. Your stylist is your friend, your photographer and videographer, you’re always surrounded by friends. It’s a really cool situation.
Hyunje: Yeah. I would’ve been really sad if it was an older guy and not Inwoo.

Oh Hyuk, are you still thinking of a scene from this year?
(Laughs) Yeah. Evans Lounge was this year, right?
Donggun: February.
Hyunje: I was thinking of that too.
Hyuk: I was performing on my own before I met these friends, and the place I first performed at was Evans Lounge. We performed there together at the beginning of this year, and we had a record-breaking audience. It was a really odd feeling. I think it was a glimpse of the future.
Hyunje: ‘Oh, we’re somehow getting noticed’, there was this kind of feeling. What I felt at Infinite Challenge was more like something bursting, but what touched me directly was performing at Evans Lounge. I think it was somehow more vivid. That people suddenly came to watch us was very unfamiliar. I remember that feeling.
Inwoo: I identify with that a lot.
Hyuk: Of course there have been a lot of changes after Infinite Challenge, but rather than it becoming an incentive it just made things a bit more easy. But that time when we performed at Evans Lounge in February it felt like things changed over night, so there was a bit more of a bliss. If I’m to speak honestly, while performing that day I thought we wouldn’t get to perform there again.

I think I know that feeling. As it were, things like the feeling when you’re performing Wi ing Wi ing must be so different now.
Hyuk: That’s right.

And now you might even dislike performing it a bit.
Hyuk: That’s right. I think we’re still in the middle of adapting. We’ve become people who need to take responsibility now. It’s true I’ve become sick of it and I don’t like performing it, but there’s also what the general public wants, and what the people who come to the shows want. I think we’re still adjusting.

There’s especially these kind of songs. It’s like the fate of hit songs. From the position of a musician, you need to hand over the ownership of the song to the public, isn’t that the case?
Hyuk: That’s right. Now I regard that song highly, by my standards. In the beginning I didn’t, because the sole reason that song was chosen to be the title track was because it was in Korean. And because I’m very timid I let people in my surroundings listen to it a lot, and the response was good.

Something like a burden to make a song exceeding ‘Wi ing Wi ing’….
I don’t think I have any psychological burden in regards to something exceeding that song. ‘Now how do I write something like this?’, of course I wouldn’t be able to write. But I don’t think I really have any thoughts that I have to exceed it.

It’s something you just end up creating between interactions with friends.
That’s right.

All four of you are 23 years old.
I thought I was very old. But when I’m with these guys I get a bit younger, I think. It’s good. It’s like I get energy to want to be with them.
Inwoo: When I was 21 I didn’t really have ambitions, I didn’t even play drums back then. It was a time where I was thinking that I should be doing something, I should work or something, so I worked part-time. When I was 22 I was trying out working with that hiphop crew, met Hyukie, and doing it like that I grabbed a position in the band at one point. Now it’s a bit..
Hyuk: It’s a party. A party of 23 year olds.
Inwoo: I intend to keep it that way.

Are you intending on confusing people in the future as well?
Hyunje: I want to make people flustered even with peaceful music.
Hyuk: I want to do this for life. Otherwise I think I wouldn’t have started this.

There are young rock bands who suddenly catch a spark and suddenly vanish into thin air as well.
Hyunje: If we were a case of trying out making music together for a bit and suddenly popping that might have happened, but each and every one of us have a thirst and craving for music. As time passes and we grow more robust that thirst will be satisfied, and there will clearly be points that were most awesome only when we did it as a band, and shone only when we did it together. I think that’s really great. Because we can really only resolve that together I think we’ll gather together and keep going.

Inwoo, will you drop out again? (Laughs)
Hyuk: Earlier you said that young bands have a short spark, and I agree a lot with that. It’s something I’m always guarded against. I think being young is great but we haven’t gone very far. But I like Paul McCartney and he’s still shining. I want to become like that.

hyukoh is the debut and the sensation of the year by far. It might’ve been thanks to luck, but above all else your music is great, and your attitudes are awesome. What kind of conviction was it that you had?
I’m still not convinced. I prepared for a long time. ‘Wi ing Wi ing’ was written when I was 19, same with ‘Ohio’. I have a really pessimistic personality. Even when I hear good things from someone I hear them as if they’re being sarcastic towards me. I’m timid too, so I prepared a lot for several different situations. What if this doesn’t work out? How can I convey this convincingly? What can I do to persuade people while doing awesome things? I listed all of these scenarios out one by one and took the time to persuade myself. Then when any of those situations showed up, I came out of it thinking it’ll work out now.